Posted 10th Nov 2014
After a warm spring and dry summer, Plantlife Scotland are predicting a bumper crop of sloes this autumn. As the cold weather arrives, it’s time to hit the hedgerows and hunt down those rich pickings. But whilst you’re out foraging this year, why not help save one of sloe gins' other vital ingredients – juniper
Juniper, which gives gin its distinctive flavour, is in a critical state and this autumn, Plantlife Scotland is calling on people to fill in a survey every time they see juniper in the wild. By taking part, you’ll get the chance to win a bottle of No.3 gin, giving you all the ingredients you need to make the perfect sloe gin this Christmas.
How to make the perfect sloe gin:
450g sloes, picked after the first frost
225g caster sugar
1 litre of No.3 London Dry Gin
1. Prick the tough skin of the sloes all over with a clean needle and put in a large sterilised jar.
2. Pour in the sugar and the gin, seal tightly and shake well.
3. Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Then shake once a week for at least two months.
4. Strain the sloe gin through muslin into a sterilised bottle.
Davie Black from Plantlife Scotland says: 'Sloe gin is a festive favourite and whilst sloes are yielding a bumper crop this year, another vital ingredient, juniper, which gives gin its distinctive flavour, is in real trouble and we are deeply concerned about its future. Whilst people are out sloe picking or walking in the countryside this autumn and winter we are calling on them to fill in a survey so we can monitor the health of this ancient gin-giving bush that is under threat from an infection called Phytophthora austrocedrae. Juniper with its blueish-green needles and green or black berries is easy to identify. We are especially interested in any orange or brown bushes, which could indicate infection – although other causes, such as frost or grazing animals, could be to blame. If such symptoms are seen people should document this on their survey form but ensure they keep well away from such bushes. We would also ask people to avoid wet areas and clean mud thoroughly from their boots, equipment and animals when they leave.'
Juniper’s decline in Scotland is also due to combination of ageing bushes – many are over 100 years old, so produce few viable seeds. Unsuitable grazing regimes prevent germination and suppress seedlings while the locally booming rabbit and vole populations devour juvenile plants.
Recent juniper studies in Scotland show:
- 40% of surveyed juniper sites in Scotland had fewer than 10 plants. Small populations are more likely to go extinct.
- Seedlings were recorded at only 15% of sites for common juniper. Without seedlings, populations will die out.
- 67% of recorded plants were mature/old or dead. Unless the surrounding land is managed in a way to enable these mature plants to set seed, these populations will die out.
Plantlife are able to carry out a survey thanks to funding from Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage. Juniper is the key contributor to the flavour of gin, and, appropriately enough, No.3 London Dry Gin has also stepped in to support the survey.
Plantlife are urging people to carry out the juniper survey next time they are out in the countryside, and to say thank you, the first 20 people who send in a completed survey form by January 2015 will win a bottle of No.3 London Dry Gin worth £36. Log on to www.plantlife.org.uk/scotland where you can download the juniper survey form and find out more details.
No.3 London Dry Gin has been created to taste ‘as gin should’ – with a robust helping of juniper, delicately complemented by just five other fruits and spices. No.3 is now available nationally at Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, RRP £36.00/70cl.
Images courtesy of Plantlife: Beth Newman, Bob Gibbons